Federal Advocacy: The Year in Review

December 17, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

The 113th Congress has come to a close, marking the end of a historically unproductive and largely dysfunctional term. While political and economic factors created new advocacy challenges in 2014, AALL members rose to the occasion and helped to achieve real progress on several of the Association’s Public Policy Positions. Here’s a roundup of action on our priorities in the past year—including several lame duck developments.

GPO Gets a New Name

The recently passed “CRomnibus” spending bill for Fiscal Year 2015 (H.R. 83) included slight increases in funding for the Government Printing Office and the Library of Congress, as well as one particularly noteworthy policy change: it re-names the Government Printing Office as the Government Publishing Office. Throughout the year, AALL members worked in support of the Government Publishing Office Act of 2014 (S. 1947) to provide GPO with a name that more accurately reflects the agency’s role as the “official, digital, secure” source of federal government information in the digital age. S. 1947 was reported by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration but never received floor time. Instead, the bill text— which also changes the titles of the public printer and deputy public printer to “director” and “deputy director” and replaces gender-specific terms with gender-neutral ones— was rolled into the spending bill and passed into law.

FOIA Reform Phased Out

Though both the House and Senate cleared their respective bills to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2014, the FOIA Improvement Act (S. 2520) will not become law this year. After clearing a challenge from outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), the Senate bill moved to the House last Monday. Despite what appeared to be solid approval in the House, leaders in that chamber failed to put the measure on the calendar before their members adjourned for the year. The bill would have established a “presumption of openness” with government information, codifying President Obama’s 2009 directive to federal agencies. Congress is likely to revisit the issue next year.

Updates to Presidential and Federal Records Acts Enacted

This year, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 1233, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014. This set of amendments is the first statutory change to the Federal Records Act since it was passed in 1950 and implements the important modernization of the definition of a federal record to include electronic records. It also makes several updates to the Presidential Records Act to improve access. Among several key provisions, the new law codifies the procedures by which former and incumbent presidents review presidential records for constitutional privileges and establishes a reasonable standard for release of records.

Elimination of Indexes Avoided

When the House passed the Federal Register Modernization Act (H.R. 4195) in July, AALL advocates stepped up their advocacy efforts to defend the statutory requirement to print the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations and produce indexes for these resources, which would have been eliminated by the bill. Sharing anecdotes about the usefulness of these texts and their indexes in print helped the Government Relations Office to engage with Senate staff about our concerns. The bill died in the Senate.

Privacy Safeguards on Back Burner

Efforts to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and reform the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance practices were both stalled in 2014 amid contentious party divisions. The Senate blocked consideration of the USA FREEDOM Act  (S. 2685) in December, despite support from the White House, Director of National Intelligence, Senators from both parties, tech companies, and a wide coalition of organizations for the bill to curb domestic surveillance practices. Critics of the legislation said they preferred to use the June 2015 reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act to enact reforms. A similarly popular bill, the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852) to update ECPA, gained 272 co-sponsors this year but was never awarded floor time because one federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, worked to keep the bill from coming to fruition. While AALL is disappointed that both efforts fizzled out, we look forward to the renewed opportunity to advance important privacy protections for individuals and library patrons in the new Congress.

Congress Approves FY 2015 Spending Bill

December 15, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

The House and Senate have approved the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (H.R. 83), a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund most of the federal government through Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The so-called “CRomnibus” – a combination Continuing Resolution (CR) and omnibus – authorizes all discretionary spending through September 30 with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security. Funding for that agency will expire on February 27, when Republicans will attempt to roll back President Obama’s recent Executive Order on immigration policy.

The total spending level in H.R. 83 honors last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and also makes a number of important changes to federal law.  Legislative branch spending in H.R. 83 includes a slight increase from FY 2014, allocating $4.3 billion to agencies. Under the bill, the Government Printing Office will be re-named the Government Publishing Office “to acknowledge that the information needs of Congress, Federal agencies, and the public have evolved beyond print.” AALL has worked in support of legislation to change the agency’s name, S. 1947, throughout the year. The provision will also change the titles of the public printer and deputy public printer to “director” and “deputy director,” respectively, while replacing certain gender-specific terms in current law such as “he” and “his” with gender-neutral ones. GPO will receive FY 2014 levels for Congressional Printing and Binding (renamed “Congressional Publishing”) and Salaries and Expenses (renamed “Public Information Programs of the Superintendent of Documents”). The Revolving Fund level will increase from $8,064,000 in FY 2014 to $8,757,000. The Library of Congress will also see an increase of $11 million over 2014 levels, receiving $591 million total from the package.

AALL is pleased with the change to GPO’s name and the slight increases in funding for GPO and LC. However, we are disappointed that Congress has opted to push through a spending bill that was largely crafted in secret, and once again left lawmakers with limited time to sort through the 1,603 page bill. The president is expected to sign the bill early this week.

Increasing LSC Funding Increases Access to Justice

April 15, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

Law libraries provide access to timely, reliable, and accurate legal information and services that can be used by anyone, regardless of background.  As trusted institutions, law libraries play a fundamental role in providing members of the public with the resources needed to preserve their legal rights and helping to ensure the effective functioning of the judicial system.  With the number of self-represented litigants steadily increasing, law libraries, particularly public law libraries, have positioned themselves as key contributors to ensuring access to justice for all.

AALL is again working to support the funding request of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Established by Congress in 1974, LSC is the country’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. LSC is a grant-making organization, distributing nearly 94 percent of its federal appropriation to eligible nonprofit organizations that deliver civil legal aid.  With more than 800 offices nationwide, LSC promotes equal access to justice by funding high-quality civil legal assistance for millions of low-income individuals, children, families, seniors, and veterans.

Adjusted for inflation, the LSC budget is near its lowest funding level in its 40-year history. Congress provided the LSC with $365 million this fiscal year, a meaningful boost of $25 million from the previous year. Still, that number is far below the $420 million appropriated in FY 2010. President Barack Obama’s budget request of $430 million would enable LSC to better meet the overwhelming demand for legal aid.

Earlier this month, the White House convened a “Forum on Increasing Access to Justice” with LSC. Administration officials including Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, Associate Attorney General Tony West, and Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Tina Tchen underscored the administration’s commitment to increasing access to justice, while LSC Program Counsel for Technology Glenn Rawdon gave an inspired speech about the role of technology in achieving this goal.

The American Bar Association also came out in strong support of increased funding for LSC with an op-ed published in The Hill this week. In it, President James Silkenat writes, “Access to justice is not an abstract right…Congress can help Americans live safer, more productive lives by giving them access to legal aid.”

AALL members, including President Steve Anderson, urged their members of Congress to support the FY 2015 funding request of the Legal Services Corporation as part of AALL’s Lobby Day event on March 27. The Associations’ Access to Justice Special Committee is working to complete a White Paper on the participation of law libraries in the access to justice movement for presentation to the Executive Board. You can lend your support by writing your member of Congress in support of LSC funding for FY 2015.

House Appropriations Committee Approves Legislative Branch Bill

April 9, 2014

By Emily Feltren

Today, the House Appropriations Committee favorably reported its Fiscal Year 2015 Legislative Branch bill, which includes funding for the Government Printing Office (GPO) and Library of Congress. Given the continued fiscal constraints facing appropriators, the two agencies fared reasonably well this year.

The bill provides GPO with $122,584,000, an amount $3.3 million above the FY 2014 level but $6.3 million below the request. Most notably, the bill meets GPO’s request for the Revolving Fund, providing $11,348,000 for development of FDsys, replacement of the Composition System, and much-needed facilities repairs.

Government Printing Office (Amounts in thousands of dollars)

Printing and Binding
Salaries and Expenses Revolving Fund Total
FY2014 Enacted 79,736 31,500 8,064 119,300
FY2015 Request 85,400 32,171 11,348 128,919
FY2015 House Bill 79,736 31,500 11,348 122,584

The bill provides the Library of Congress with $594,952,000, a remarkable $16 million above the FY 2014 level and $1.9 million above the request. Importantly, the Draft Committee Report emphasizes the need to address the preservation challenges facing the Library. The bill includes funding for the Preservation Directorate, including support for mass deacidification. The bill also provides additional funding for the purchase of law books and for the Copyright Office to improve its technologies. It also directs the Government Accountability Office to review the steps the Library has taken to manage its information technology.

Library of Congress (Amounts in thousands of dollars)

Salaries and Expenses Copyright Office Books for the Blind
and Physically Handicapped
FY2014 Enacted 405,702 18,180 49,750 578,982
FY2015 Request 414,502 19,486 50,696 593,066
FY2015 House Bill 417,707 20,721 50,429 594,952

AALL thanks the House Appropriations Committee for addressing many of the funding priorities of GPO and the Library, several of which we highlighted in our written testimony.  We will continue to support as close to full funding as possible for GPO and the Library as the appropriations process proceeds in the House and Senate.

Where’s the Federal Budget?

February 13, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

After a two-hour contentious vote, the Senate agreed yesterday to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, without any conditions, until March 2015. Earlier in the week, House Speaker John Boehner conceded to bring a “clean” debt ceiling increase to the floor for passage with Democratic support after failing to rally his conference behind a modest Republican offset proposal. President Obama will likely sign the bill before the week’s end.

So, crisis averted?

Not quite.

While the debt ceiling compromise ensures our nation will not default on its debt in the immediate future, the real bulk of Congress’s budgetary work—Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget and appropriations—is just beginning and is, unsurprisingly, already behind schedule. However, with the impending midterm elections, recent budget deal, and fallout over the last year’s budget crisis still looming large, Congress may attempt to restore normalcy in this year’s budget process. If all goes as planned, here’s what you can expect in the coming months:

The President’s Budget

Traditionally, the president submits his budget to Congress by the first Monday in February, per federal law. As has been in the case in recent years, President Obama’s FY 2015 (Oct. 1- Sept. 30) budget will be unveiled late; the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said we can expect to see the first part on March 4. The president’s budget is a proposal (not law) that’s submitted as a request to Congress. The president creates his request through a process of coordination between OMB and federal agencies. Based on the policy priorities of the president and his cabinet, OMB gives guidelines to federal agencies instructing them how to prepare their strategic plans and budgets. Agencies in turn then submit budget requests to OMB, which OMB compiles into the president’s budget request. This process can actually begin as early as spring of the prior year, when agencies work on a series of documents and tables that provide information on the agency’s budget needs and explain how resources will be used.

Budget Resolutions

Once the president has submitted his budget request to Congress, the House and Senate budget committees begin working on a budget resolution. Budget resolutions are essentially blueprints or guidelines for spending that the budget committees give to the appropriators.  To create these blueprints, the budget committees typically hold public hearings in March and April at which they receive testimony about the president’s budget proposals from Administration officials, outside experts, trade associations and other interest groups, Members of Congress, and the general public.

Discretionary vs. Mandatory Spending

Budget resolutions set the total federal and spending levels for discretionary spending but do not determine funding for specific programs. That’s the work of the appropriators. Discretionary spending is the part of the federal budget that must be appropriated every single year. This covers anything from programs in transportation to education, administration of justice, general science and technology, the environment, etc. It also includes the budget of many agencies we care a lot about—including the Government Printing Office, National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress,. Oppositely, mandatory spending is exempt from the appropriations process. It covers automatic spending programs like social security and Medicare. There may be some fluctuation in the amount of mandatory spending each year dependant on the number of people eligible for these programs, but in general mandatory spending is about 2/3 of the budget, discretionary spending is about 1/3 of the budget, the majority of which is military spending.

Once the budget committees complete their work, the budget resolutions go to the House and Senate floors, where they can be amended by a majority vote. The budget resolution is a “concurrent” congressional resolution, not an ordinary bill, and therefore does not go to the president for his signature or veto. It also requires only a majority vote to pass, and its consideration is one of the few actions that cannot be filibustered in the Senate.

The budget resolution is supposed to be passed by April 15, but it often takes longer. Occasionally, Congress does not pass a budget resolution. If that happens, the previous year’s resolution, which is a multi-year plan, stays in effect.


A House-Senate conference then resolves any differences, and a conference report is passed by both houses. The budget resolutions then enter the appropriations process. The Bipartisan Budget Act agreed to in December 2013 set spending caps for both FY 2014 and FY 2015, which may make the FY 2015 appropriations process easier than it has been in recent years.  The cap for FY 2015 is $1.014 trillion for discretionary spending, compared to $1.012 trillion for FY2014.

While the budget resolution set goals for spending levels, appropriations bills actually provide this money to agencies. The appropriations committees receive a single allocation for all its programs (referred to as a 302(a) allocation). It must then decide how to divide that lump sum among its 12 subcommittees. The allocations to the subcommittees are referred to as 302(b) allocations and they are really a key decision point in the budget process; 302(b) allocations determine how much spending is allocated to defense vs. health research vs. food safety vs. law enforcement vs. the Government Printing Office (GPO), etc.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of competing priorities in the appropriations subcommittee process. Relevant to our work are the subcommittees on the Legislative Branch, which covers GPO and the Library of Congress; Financial Services, which handles the National Archives; Labor, Health and Human Services, which covers the Institute of Museum and Library Services; and Commerce, Justice and Science, which handles the Legal Services Corporation.

Once they receive their 302(b) allocations, the appropriations subcommittees “mark-up” appropriations bills for the upcoming fiscal year.  Subcommittees are critical to examining agency programs through public hearings, and recommending funding levels that dictate what agencies will have the resources to do.  The subcommittees review agency budget request and receive testimony from agency heads. Subcommittees will often receive written or oral testimony from public interest groups like AALL, as well. The chairman and ranking minority member of the subcommittees use these letters and testimony to determine funding levels for the agencies under their jurisdiction. The subcommittee then votes on these levels, and when the members come to agreement, the bills go back to the full appropriations committees for consideration.

Following full committee action, appropriations bills travel to the House and Senate floor, respectively, for consideration by the full chamber. The Budget Act of 1974 (Pub.L. 93–344, 2 U.S.C. §§ 601–688) sets June 10 as a target date to have completed the House Appropriations Committee’s work on its appropriations bills; however, the committee usually begins to report its bills in May or June, finishing all or most of the bills by July or by the annual recess in August.

Typically, appropriations bills are first considered by the House. When the appropriations bill is on the floor of the House, Representatives debate the bill and offer amendments after hearing opening statements from the chair and the ranking minority member of the subcommittee for which the bill applies. After the bill is passed, it is sent to the Senate, which considers and amends the House-passed bill. In contrast to the House, the Senate doesn’t consider floor amendments in the order of the bill.  Senators may propose amendments to any portion of the bill at any time.

Once the Senate has made its changes, a conference committee must be formed to reconcile the differences between the House and the Senate versions of the bill. These negotiations usually take place between the chair and ranking minority members of the full Appropriations Committees, as well as the members of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill. Upon reaching an agreement, the bill is once again sent to the chambers, both of which generally accept the conference report.

Bill to Law

Just as for any bill, the president may: approve the appropriations bill by signing it so that it becomes a law; veto the bill; or take no action for ten days— if Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes a law and if Congress has adjourned, the bill has been “pocket-vetoed” and dies.

The Unknowns

Agency budgets will again be subject to sequestration in 2015, though the Bipartisan Budget Act (Pub.L. 113–67) did lessen the load. Congress may act to reduce the budget cuts even further, though the exact implementation and effect of the across the board cuts is hard to project. Still, following the uncertainty of ambiguous and short term budgets over the past several years, agencies including GPO, the Library of Congress, and National Archives and Records Administration may be better able to undertake new projects and continue scheduled activities in this improved budget climate.

Opportunities for Action

As always, the Government Relations Office will call on AALL members to advocate for full FY 2015 funding for those agencies whose work ensures public access to information, so stay tuned for future calls for action this year. Appropriations subcommittees in particular have the ability to influence Congress’s view of agencies work and priorities. Check your members of Congress’s committee assignments using our Legislative Action Center and let us know if they serve on one of the subcommittees mentioned in this post. Then, stay tuned for future budget updates, action alerts, and opportunities to favorably influence the budget process this year!

Agency Operations and Expanded Public Access: What’s in the FY 2014 Omnibus?

January 22, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

On Friday night President Obama signed the $1.1 trillion omnibus FY 2014 appropriations bill (H.R. 3547) into law. The comprehensive spending plan designates funding for every government agency and, with a 72-26 vote in the Senate and 359-67 margin in the House, passed both chambers of Congress easily.

Those agencies whose services are integral to providing access to government information managed fairly well in the budget deal. The Government Printing Office (GPO) maintained their 2013 funding level of $119 million. The Library of Congress is provided with $579 million, a decrease of $8 million below the Fiscal Year 2013 enacted level.  The Electronic Government Fund received a boost in funding from recent years to $16 million. The Fund will also retain its budgetary independence, despite the House Appropriations Committee’s proposal to merge it with another fund and cut their combined funding.

In a victory for open access advocates, the omnibus bill also included language that requires federal agencies under the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education with research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to articles resulting from federally funded research within 12 months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agencies covered would ensure that more than $31 billion of the total $60 billion annual U.S. investment in taxpayer-funded research is now openly accessible.

The language in the omnibus affirms the strong precedent set by the 2009 National Institutes of Health’s Public Access Policy and 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Directive on Public Access.

AALL continues to support the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) (S. 350, H.R. 708), which would strengthen the language in the omnibus bill by requiring that taxpayer funded articles be made available through a central database no later than six months after publication. Using our Legislative Action Center, you can contact your members of Congress today to ask them to support FASTR.

Following a series of short-term spending deals, sequestration cuts, and the September government shutdown, AALL was pleased to see the omnibus package address funding through Fiscal Year 2014. This budget agreement is an important step toward bipartisanship and provides greater certainty in agency operations. The uninterrupted operations of agencies like GPO and LC are essential to informing the American public about their government and promoting a healthy democracy.

Government Printing Office Authenticates Online Budget

May 12, 2009

On Monday, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the President’s FY 2010 Budget (Peter Orzsag, Director of OMB, blogged about it here).  In addition, for the second year in a row, the Government Printing Office (GPO) has released an authenticated online version of the budget, this year through the new FDsys.

As you might remember, GPO stepped in last year when the White House released an online-only version of the budget. GPO quickly announced that it would also publish the budget in print and distribute 1 or 2 sets at no cost to members of Congress, as well as distributing the print version of the new budget to federal depository libraries. At the time, GPO also announced that it would authenticate the online version of the budget, using the same technology GPO uses to authenticate the online versions of public and private laws.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Economic Data Site to Remain Online

February 22, 2008

Last week, the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce announced its plan to shut down its Economic Indicators web site due to budgetary constraints. The Economic Indicators web site’s mission is to “provide timely access to the daily releases of key economic indicators form the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau.”

In response to the proposed shut-down, OMB Watch quickly compiled an index of commonly cited economic indicators to replace the Economic Indicators site. However, due to strong public pressure, the ESA has now announced it will continue to run the web site but simplify its email subscription service, which is the most costly feature of the site. Email alerts will remain free, but will consist of an abstract and a link to the release rather than the full release itself. We are pleased that the passionate public reaction persuaded ESA to keep this valuable resource available.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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